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WHO supports quality data system through the Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leona
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Sierra Leone is among other low- and middle-income countries with public health programmes that are “data rich but information poor”, implying that much data is generated at the country level but the full potential to use these data to inform improvements in public health is rarely achieved.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global public health challenge with the potential to kill as many as 10 million people per year by 2050 and cost the world economy as much as $100 trillion. AMR makes standard treatments ineffective and allows infections to persist and spread to others.

Cognizant of these troubling statistics, The Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative (SORT IT) seeks to make countries “data-rich, information-rich and action rich” thereby contributing to improving health care delivery and outcomes.

WHO headquarter and the Sierra Leone country office, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation has organized the Sierra Leone National SORT IT training for staff at Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Environmental Protection Agency, in view of the one health approach. The training was held in the Bo district and the capital city- Freetown. The objective of the training is to build the capacity of the participants to draft operational research protocols and better understand quality data collection and analysis.

Dr Ibrahim Franklyn Kamara, SORT IT Fellow and WHO’s Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) Team member highlighted the significance of these trainings:

“Sierra Leone like many other parts of the world has limited data on AMR, antimicrobials consumption and or use which makes it difficult to prioritize interventions that will reduce the burden of AMR in the country. As emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases outbreaks are becoming more frequent, we should better prepare to prevent the silent AMR epidemic.” Said Dr Kamara.

At the end of these trainings, it is expected that 16 priority Operational research (OR) projects (4 regional and 12 national participants) and many other researchers would have been trained on OR. The SORT IT program support its fellows to be future OR leaders; build an AMR community of practice; an enlarged SORT IT partnership base; publications; policy/issue briefs; and integration of OR activities within national strategic plans.

“Completing 2 Modules of a 4-module course has given me valuable insights into operational research, research protocol development and quality data collection and analysis. I am happy as a SORT IT Fellow to be participating in the first cohort of the Sierra Leone National SORT IT training.” Said Dr Kamara.

Bobson Derrick Fofanah, Infection Prevention and Control officer at WHO explained what the SORT IT training means to him:

“In SORT IT, we are guided to undergo training and conduct our research simultaneously. In Module 1&2 of the Sierra Leone National SORT IT, I was able to use my research project and learn the practical skills of how to write a study protocol, and how to ensure quality-assured data capture and analysis. I feel privileged to be part of this initiative” said FOFANAH.

“Of the 12 SORT IT participants from Sierra Leone, six chose their research topic around IPC; and I think the reasons for this is the universal acceptance with evidences that effective IPC implementation is a practical approach and cost-effective means to prevent healthcare associated infections (HAI) and leads to reduction in 2/3 the frequency of AMR” Fofanah added.

SORT IT has been successfully scaled up to 90 countries over 8 years (with approximately 800 participants) and addressed topics such as multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, malaria, maternal and child health, and outbreaks and emergencies. The approach has proven to be adaptable to various geographic contexts, thematic areas and research methodologies. About 85% of participants publish in peer-reviewed journals and 69% of studies report an impact on policy and practice. This model is now being adapted to tackle AMR.